Life Without Filters: Standard Deviation

Originally published March 2018

The truth may be stranger than fiction, but in Katherine Heiny’s “Standard Deviation,” fiction is so much funnier than the truth.

The author’s debut novel takes readers into the world of Graham Cavanaugh, and through his eyes, introduces you to his younger wife Audra, their son Matthew, his first wife, Elspeth, and a cast of characters as large as their NYC apartment building. The book jacket’s synopsis is enough to grab anyone’s attention — man marries, man divorces and marries girlfriend, new wife is irrepressible and wants to befriend new wife — but it in no way prepares you for the hurricane of a personality that is Audra.

Audra is that friend of yours that if you weren’t friends, you’d be equally amused and mortified by each and every verbal utterance she makes. Audra is a freelance graphic designer because it’s entirely possible she wouldn’t make it a week in a typical office setting. Audra is that mom that knows everyone, or at least pretends to if it forwards her agenda. And that’s not to say she’s manipulative. She is, but not in the stereotypical way we moms can tend to think about that mom. With Audra, it’s genuine. It just works for her. Audra makes no apologies for her over-the-top personality because a) she doesn’t see herself at all in a judgmental light and b) the girl gets shit done.

And getting shit done is exactly the kind of thing Audra needs to do because when you have a kid on the spectrum, you’ll move mountains to make their life better. It is thanks to Audra’s can-do, must-do attitude that Graham is afforded the time to have a novel’s length mid-life crisis:

  • Why did I marry Audra?
  • Why did I marry Elspeth?
  • Why is Bitsy living with us?
  • When did Julio move in?
  • Will Matthew ever be normal?
  • Could I cheat on my second wife with my first wife? Am I even that good at philandering?
  • Who the hell is Jasper?

Graham’s revelations about life, from whom he chooses to make friends with to the lens through which he views Audra and Elspeth, and what he learns about love in parenting Matthew, are also revelations to the reader — little nuggets of universal truths, blended into what is one of the most comic reads I’ve enjoyed in a long time. My favorite line isn’t even one of Audra’s, though she comes close when she wishes a sexual act upon Elspeth. No, it comes from Julio, the building’s doorman and really, one of Graham’s best friends. I would kill to see this miniseries — so many great moments.

Just a really good book for any occasion — long weekends, book clubs, soccer practice — even Origami Club. This is one of those reads for which I am so grateful for book loving friends, because without them, I may never have stumbled upon it. Pick it up and pass it on.

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